China to allow in U.S. experts amid spread of virus even as it slams U.S. actions

By Kevin Yao and Winni Zhou

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China has agreed to allow U.S. health experts into the country as part of a World Health Organization (WHO) effort to help fight the fast-spreading coronavirus, even as it accused the United States on Monday of whipping up panic over the disease with travel restrictions and evacuations.

“China has accepted the United States’ offer to incorporate a group of experts into a World Health Organization mission to China to learn more about and combat the virus,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

The death toll in China from the newly identified virus, which emerged in the city of Wuhan, rose to 361 as of Sunday, up by 57 from a day earlier, the National Health Commission said. Chinese stocks plunged on Monday, the first day of trading following an extended Lunar New Year holiday.

With Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged, and some other Chinese cities in virtual lockdown, travel severely restricted and China facing increasing international isolation, fears of wider economic disruption are growing. Sources at the OPEC oil cartel said producers were considering cutting output by almost a third to support prices.

The WHO last week declared the flu-like virus a global emergency. It has spread to 23 other countries and regions. The Philippines has reported one death from the coronavirus, the first outside of China.

Airlines around the world have stopped flights to parts of China. A suspension by the United Arab Emirates on Monday will affect the Gulf airlines Etihad and Emirates.

China accused the United States of spreading fear by pulling its citizens out and restricting travel.

Washington has “unceasingly manufactured and spread panic,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters, noting that the WHO had advised against trade and travel curbs.

“It is precisely developed countries like the United States with strong epidemic prevention capabilities and facilities that have taken the lead in imposing excessive restrictions contrary to WHO recommendations,” she said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defended the measures taken by the United States, including suspending the entry of foreign nationals who had visited China within the past 14 days.

“We made an aggressive decision in front of an unprecedented threat that action now had the biggest potential to slow this thing down. That’s what the theory is here,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, as she noted that there are already some 17,000 cases of a virus for which the population does not have immunity.

Vladimir Markov shows empty roads in Wuhan City, China, February 3, 2020, in this picture obtained from social media. VLADIMIR MARKOV/via REUTERS

‘NO REASON’ FOR TRAVEL CURBS

The WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, again said travel bans were unnecessary.

“There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade,” he told the WHO’s executive board in Geneva.

The outbreak is reminiscent of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a virus from the same family that emerged in China in 2002 and killed almost 800 people around the world out of the roughly 8,000 who were infected.

Chinese data suggests the new virus, while much more contagious than SARS, is significantly less lethal, although such numbers can evolve rapidly. The number of confirmed infections in China rose by 2,829, bringing the total to 17,205.

The WHO said at least 151 cases had been confirmed in 23 other countries and regions, including Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Germany, Britain and the United States, which on Monday reported its second case of person-to-person transmission within its borders.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said controlling the virus was his country’s most important task, Xinhua state news agency said.

Chinese stocks fell almost 8%, wiping $393 billion off the value of the Shanghai bourse, the yuan currency had its worst day since August, and Shanghai-traded commodities from oil to copper hit their lower limits – all despite the central bank’s injection of 1.2 trillion yuan ($174 billion) into money markets.

Fears over the effect of China’s lockdown on global growth have slashed more than 22% off the price of the Brent global crude oil benchmark since its recent peak on Jan. 8, prompting OPEC to consider an output cut of 500,000 barrels per day, about 29% of the total, sources told Reuters.

Economists are predicting world economic output will be cut by 0.2 to 0.3 percentage point.

Taiwan’s Foxconn, which makes smartphones for Apple and other brands, has halted “almost all” of its production in China after companies were told to shut until at least Feb. 10, a source said. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

HOSPITAL BUILT IN EIGHT DAYS

A 1,000-bed hospital built in eight days to treat people with the virus in Wuhan was due to receive its first patients on Monday, state media said. A second hospital with 1,600 beds is due to be ready on Feb. 5.

Wuhan also plans to renovate another three “cabin hospitals” to focus on treating infected patients there, Xinhua reported.

Countries continued to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan.

The United States, which flew nearly 200 people out last week, is planning “a handful more flights.” Russia was due to start evacuating its citizens on Monday, and Canada said 304 of its citizens were seeking to be flown out.

Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, rocked by months of sometimes violent anti-China protests, announced the closure of four more border crossings with mainland China, leaving just three open.

China’s efforts to contain the virus have taken some unexpected, and some might say unnerving, forms.

A video clip posted on the microblogging website Weibo showed people playing mahjong in a village near the city of Chengdu being spotted by a camera mounted on a patrolling drone.

“Playing mahjong outside is banned during the epidemic!” an official tells the villagers through a loudspeaker. “You have been spotted.”

For a graphic comparing coronavirus outbreaks, see https://tmsnrt.rs/2GK6YVK.

For more coronavirus news click here. https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH/0100B59Y39P/index.html

(Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html)

(Reporting by Kevin Yao, Lusha Zhang and Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by Yilei Sun, Leng Cheng, Brenda Goh, Winni Zhou in Shanghai, Martin Pollard in Jiujiang, Roxanne Liu, Pei Li, Gabriel Crossley and Muyu Xu, Min Zhang in Beijing, Clare Jim and Noah Sin in Hong Kong, Mekhla Raina in Bengaluru, Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Gayatri Suroyo in Jakarta, Tom Westbrook in Singapore, Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago, Jeff Mason in Washington and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by; Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie and Bill Berkrot; editing by Kevin Liffey and Leslie Adler)

China orders ‘unprecedented’ lockdown of two cities at virus epicenter

China orders ‘unprecedented’ lockdown of two cities at virus epicenter
By Yawen Chen and Se Young Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Thursday locked down two cities at the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 people and infected nearly 600, as health authorities around the world took action to prevent a global pandemic.

Health officials fear the transmission rate will accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday.

The previously unknown virus strain is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Most transport in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, was suspended on Thursday morning and people were told not to leave. Hours later, neighboring Huanggang, a city of about 7 million people, announced a similar lockdown.

“The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history, so it is certainly not a recommendation the WHO has made,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s representative in Beijing, told Reuters.

Other cities were also taking steps to restrict movement and contact. Nearby Ezhou shut its train stations. The capital Beijing canceled major public events, including two well-known Lunar New Year temple fairs, the state-run Beijing News said.

Airports worldwide were screening passengers arriving from China.

There is no vaccine for the virus, which can spread through respiratory transmission. Symptoms include fever, difficulty in breathing and cough, similar to many other respiratory illnesses.

Preliminary research suggested it was passed on to humans from snakes, but government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan has also identified badgers and rats as possible sources.

WHO MEETING

The WHO has said it will decide on Thursday whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, which would step up the international response.

If it does so, it will be the sixth international public health emergency to be declared in the last decade. A WHO news conference is expected some time after 1800 GMT.

Chinese authorities gave no new details on the numbers of virus infections but it has been reported in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Of eight known cases worldwide, Thailand has confirmed four, while Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States have reported one each.

Authorities had confirmed 571 cases and 17 deaths by the end of Wednesday, China’s National Health Commission said. Earlier, it said another 393 suspected cases had been reported.

In a report on Wednesday, Imperial College London said it estimated a total of 4,000 cases of the coronavirus in Wuhan alone as of Jan. 18, an infection rate based on the number of cases reported in China and elsewhere.

Wuhan shut down all urban transport networks and suspended outgoing flights from 10 a.m. (0200 GMT). Domestic media said some airlines were operating after the deadline, however.

Wuhan’s Hankou rail station was nearly deserted, with gates blocked, state broadcasts showed. The government urged citizens not to leave the city.

State media reported highway toll booths around Wuhan were closing down, which would effectively cut off road exits. Guards were patrolling highways, one resident told Reuters.

As the city slipped into isolation, residents thronged into hospitals for checks and scrambled for supplies, clearing out supermarket shelves and queuing for petrol.

Authorities in Huanggang ordered indoor entertainment venues including cinemas and internet cafes to close.

FACE MASKS

In contrast with its secrecy over the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed nearly 800 people, China’s Communist Party government has provided regular updates to avoid panic ahead of the holidays.

During a visit to Wuhan, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said authorities needed to be open about the virus and efforts to contain it, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Some experts believe the new virus is not as dangerous as previous coronaviruses such as SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has killed more than 700 people since 2012.

“The early evidence at this stage would suggest it’s not as severe,” Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told reporters.

Despite China’s response, world shares fell on Thursday, led by the biggest tumble in Chinese stocks in more than eight months, as concern mounted about the outbreak. China’s yuan fell to a two-week low. [MKTS/GLOB]

The economic impact of such outbreaks are hard to quantify but a 2006 estimate by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) calculated that SARS shaved just over 1 percentage point off the GDP of China in 2003.

InterContinental Hotels and Hyatt are allowing guests to change or cancel stays at most Chinese hotels.

A general view shows the monitors of thermal scanners that detect temperatures of passengers at the security check inside the airport in Guatemala City, Guatemala January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

Many Chinese were cancelling trips, buying face masks and avoiding shopping centers.

The release of seven movies over the Lunar New Year has been postponed. The holiday is the high season for distributors and cinemas attract huge crowds.

Airports globally, including in Britain, stepped up screening of passengers from China and the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said the further global spread of the virus was likely.

“All the fatalities have so far been contained to mainland China, however, this is a rapidly developing situation and the number of deaths and the number of cases is likely to be higher than those that have been confirmed so far and I expect them to rise further,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the British parliament.

(Reporting by Yawen Chen, Se Young Lee, Sophie Yu and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, Sam Shen and Engen Tham in Shanghai, Ben Blanchard in Taiwan, Alison Lui and Donny Kwok in Hong Kong, John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland and Elizabeth Howcroft in London; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Stephen Coates and Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)

Three killed including shooter at U.S. Navy base in Pensacola, Florida

Three killed including shooter at U.S. Navy base in Pensacola, Florida
(Reuters) – Three people including a suspected shooter were killed and at least seven others were injured on Friday at Naval Air Station Pensacola, a major U.S. Navy base in Florida, authorities said, the second deadly shooting at a U.S. military installation this week.

An “active shooter” was encountered on the base on Friday morning, according to the Escambia County sheriff’s office.

A few minutes later, the shooter was dead, according to the sheriff’s office and the Navy. WEAR TV, a local news channel, reported that sheriff’s deputies at the base fatally shot the shooter.

Two other people were killed, the Navy said in a statement, without providing further details. Authorities planned a news conference for later on Friday morning.

The base remained on lockdown.

At least six injured people were expected at the trauma center of the Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital Pensacola, spokesman Mike Burke said.

Seven people were being treated at Baptist Hospital, WEAR TV reported.

U.S. President Donald Trump had been briefed and was monitoring the situation, a White House spokesman said.

On Wednesday, a sailor shot three civilians at the historic Pearl Harbor military base in Hawaii, killing two of them before taking his own life.

The Pensacola base, which is near Florida’s border with Alabama, is a major training site for the Navy and home to its aerobatic flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels. The base employs more than about 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel, according to the base’s website.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Alison Williams and Steve Orlofsky)

Vermont capitol on lockdown after person with gun enters state building: official

FILE PHOTO: People walk past a sign prohibiting firearms and weapons inside the State Legislature in Montpelier, Vermont, U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

(Reuters) – Vermont state office buildings in Montpelier were on lockdown on Friday after a person with a gun was seen entering the complex, the governor’s office said in a statement.

“Evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures were activated, per state security procedures,” the statement from the office of Governor Phil Scott said.

Police from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were responding, the statement said.

However, the state Department of Human Resources issued a statement saying, “our understanding is that the situation is well under control and not a danger,” according to WCAX TV in Burlington. It did not provide more details.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Chris Reese and Steve Orlofsky)

France braces for trouble, Macron to address ‘yellow vest’ anger

A trash bin burns as youths and high school students attend a demonstration to protest against the French government's reform plan, in Paris, France, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

By Richard Lough and Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) – France hunkered down for another wave of potentially violent protests on Saturday as embattled President Emmanuel Macron planned to address the nation next week over public fury at the high cost of living, senior allies said.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the three-week-old “yellow vest” revolt had “created a monster” and vowed police would have no tolerance for violence, with much of Paris in lockdown and tens of thousands of police deployed nationwide.

Named after the fluorescent safety vests that all French motorists must carry, the protesters are billing their planned action on Saturday as “Act IV” of worst unrest seen in the capital since the 1968 student riots.

Castaner warned that radicals would likely again infiltrate the protest movement – a backlash against high living costs but also, increasingly, a revolt against Macron himself, including his perceived loftiness and reforms favoring a moneyed elite.

“These last three weeks have created a monster,” Castaner told reporters. “Our security forces will respond with firmness and I will have no tolerance for anyone who capitalizes on the distress of our citizens.”

Some 89,000 policemen will be on duty nationwide to forestall a repeat of last Saturday’s destructive mayhem in exclusive central districts of Paris. Police in Paris will be backed up by armored vehicles equipped to clear barricades.

Senior allies of Macron said the president would address the nation early next week. Navigating his biggest crisis since being elected 18 months ago, Macron has left it largely to his prime minister, Edouard Philippe, to deal in public with the turmoil and offer concessions.

But the 40-year-old is under mounting pressure to speak more fully as his administration tries to regain the initiative following three weeks of unrest in the G7 nation.

“The President will speak early next week. I think this is what the French people want, they want answers,” Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne told Sud Radio on Friday.

Macron has not spoken in public since he condemned last Saturday’s disturbances while at the G20 summit in Argentina and opposition leaders accused him of turning the Elysee Palace into a bunker where had taken cover.

“Is Macron still in Argentina? He must surely have an opinion,” hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said on Twitter on Tuesday.

“The president himself must speak,” main opposition conservative Republicans leader Laurent Wauquiez told Europe 1 radio on Thursday.

Yellow vests are hung outside windows of an apartment building in support of the "yellow vests" movement in Marseille, France, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Yellow vests are hung outside windows of an apartment building in support of the “yellow vests” movement in Marseille, France, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

“FORGOTTEN FRANCE”

After the Dec. 1 riots in central Paris and sometimes violent demonstrations in dozens of other cities and towns across France, the government offered a rush of sweeteners to soothe public anger.

It started by scrapping next year’s planned hikes to fuel taxes, the first major U-turn of Macron’s presidency and costing the Treasury 4 billion euros ($4.5 billion).

But protesters want Macron to go further to help hard-pressed households, including an increase to the minimum wage, lower taxes, higher salaries, cheaper energy, better retirement provisions, and even Macron’s resignation.

But, mindful of France’s deficit and not wanting to flout EU rules, Macron will have scant wriggle room for more concessions.

The “gilets Jaunes” (yellow vest) movement remains amorphous and hard to define, with a rapidly shifting agenda and internal divisions.

One faction, which dubs itself the “Free Yellow Vests”, called on protesters not to travel to Paris on Saturday but criticized Macron for refusing to hold direct talks.

“We appeal for calm, for respect of public property and the security forces,” Benjamin Cauchy declared in front of the National Assembly. His group are seen as moderates within the broader movement.

“The forgotten France is the France of the regions and it is in the regions that France will show peacefully their anger,” Cauchy said.

Youths and high school students attend a demonstration to protest against the French government's reform plan, in Paris, France, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Youths and high school students attend a demonstration to protest against the French government’s reform plan, in Paris, France, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

“SMASHING THINGS UP”

The Eiffel Tower, opera house, and Louvre are among dozens of museums and tourist sites in Paris that will close on Saturday to pre-empt feared attacks by yellow vest militants.

Luxury boutiques and restaurants in fancy neighborhoods and near the presidential palace erected barricades and boarded up windows. Department stores Galerie Lafayette and Printemps said they would not open in the capital on Saturday.

The trouble is jeopardizing a timid economic recovery in France just as the Christmas holiday season kicks off. Retailers have lost about 1 billion euros in revenue since the protests erupted, the retail federation said.

On the French stock market, retailers, airlines and hoteliers suffered their worst week in months.

Patrick Delmas, 49, will shut his “Le Monte Carlo” bar next to the Champs Elysees on Saturday, blaming hoodlums from anarchist and anti-capitalist groups, as well as the yellow vest movement’s violent fringe.

“We have lost 60 percent of business over the last 15 days,” he said. “The problem is all those people who arrive with the sole intention of smashing things up.”

(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry, Dominique Vidalon, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Richard Lough and Marine Pennetier; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3 Police officers dead in ambush, many officers injured, 1 suspect dead

Police officers block off a road after a shooting of police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana,

By Joseph Penney

BATON ROUGE, La. (Reuters) – Three police officers were shot to death and several others wounded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Sunday, the city’s mayor said, as the country remained on edge in the wake of police shootings of black men and the killings of five Dallas officers.

The officers in Baton Rouge were responding to a call of shots fired when they were ambushed by at least one gunman, Mayor Kip Holden told NBC News.

One suspect is dead and police are checking the shooting scene with a robot to make sure there are no explosives, Baton Rouge Police spokesman L’Jean Mckneely said.

Police told reporters authorities are seeking more than one suspect and said the public should be on the lookout for people dressed in black and carrying long guns.

Earlier, a spokesman for the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office said police and sheriff’s deputies were involved in the shooting incident, which occurred around 9 a.m. local time (1400 GMT).

“Multiple officers from both agencies sustained injuries and were transported to local hospitals,” he said in an email. He said there were no firm numbers on the number hurt or the extent of injuries.

While the scene of the shootings was contained, police warned residents to stay away from the area, near Airline Highway, which is a mile from the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters, where dozens of protesters were arrested earlier this month.

Two nearby hospitals were on lockdown, CBS reported. Efforts to confirm the report were not immediately successful.

It was not immediately clear whether there is a link between Sunday’s shootings and the recent unrest over police killings of black men in Baton Rouge and Minnesota.

A wave of protests against police violence in Baton Rouge and other cities erupted after Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old African-American father of five, was shot and killed at close quarters by law enforcement officers on July 5.

At a rally in Dallas to protest Sterling’s killing and a similar incident in Minnesota, a gunman opened fire on white officers, killing five of them.

The Black Lives Matter civil rights movement has called for police to end racial profiling, bringing the issue to national attention ahead of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

The Justice Department, which has opened a federal probe into Sterling’s death, declined to comment on Sunday’s shootings.

A White House official said President Barack Obama has been briefed on the shooting of police officers in Baton Rouge and will be updated throughout the day. The official added that the White House has also been in contact with local officials and has offered assistance.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Ian Simpson, Tim Gardne and Julia Edwards in Washington; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by David Evans and Mary Milliken)

Prophetic Warnings and Faith

I’ve written before about how God inspires prophetic utterances, and how they sometimes startle me. But, the truth is that I’ve learned to distinguish God’s voice and trust Him when He says something.  That comes with years and years of having my senses trained by the Holy Spirit to know when something is an important message for others in the Body of Christ.

The Bible says that your senses are trained with use.  If you refuse to use what He gives you, you could lose the ability to hear, i.e. if you don’t use it, you lose it!  You must always be willing to “stick your neck out” because if you hold back on what the voice of the Lord gives you, you could eventually lose the ability to discern His voice, or He would simply go on to someone else who would be obedient to speak what He gives you. Continue reading

Three Arrested After Lockdown At Central Connecticut State University

Three people have been taken into custody after reports of an armed man caused the lockdown of Central Connecticut State University.

Police were called to the campus in New Britain, Connecticut after students called 911 to report a man walking around wearing camouflage while carrying a handgun and what they described as a “sword-like weapon”.

After telling students and faculty to shelter in place, police began a search of the campus and took three people into custody inside one of the residence halls. One of those in custody is a CCSU student.

Police say all three are cooperating with the investigation.